Flexibility, inclusivity and a sense of purpose

We’re living and working in interesting times. We have five generations in the workforce at the same time. Our organisations have never been so diverse culturally and needing to thrive in our globalised market place. We’re also grappling with the impact and effect robotics and automation are having on our workforces. 

AI needs to exist collaboratively and productively with humans, and vice versa. As the last three industrial revolutions have taught us – fear is not the answer, and the smart money is on leading inclusively and adopting a collaborative mentality where humans and robots work side by side.  

We won’t truly leverage the potential of AI if we’re not inclusive, resilient and adaptable in our approach. 

Focusing on inclusion starts with developing cultural intelligence –the ability to effectively navigate, communicate and function well in diverse settings. 

Diversity without cultural intelligence will present great challenges and won’t yield the benefits that have been promoted. Diversity with inclusive behaviours that develop cultural intelligence will lead to creativity, innovation and high performing teams.  Leaders are the culture makers and shapers. 

I caught up with Shireen Chua recently – a thought leader in cultural leadership and valued facilitator of IMNZ. I asked Shireen to share her thoughts on what will underpin thriving organisations of the future. 

Shireen says that the future of work will require flexibility, inclusivity and a sense of purpose to thrive. “There has been much talk in the media about Perpetual Guardian’s successful four-day working week experiment. What does this have to do with the future of work, you may ask?   

“Flexibility: Giving staff the flexibility to work a shorter work week shows trust and respect of staff and it has exceeded expectations for the organisation. Think of a time where you have been valued and trusted, and your response in that situation. Creating flexible workplaces communicates value to everyone which increases motivation, synergy and productivity.  Negotiating the outcomes expected with flexibility is essential to the success of this endeavour within any organisation. That flexibility may need to look different in every organisation, so finding what works best for your employees and your business is the role of the leader.  

“What would flexibility look like in your business, team and organisation?  Why is it important to you to do this?  What will you gain?   

“Inclusivity: There’s a well-known saying ‘diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being invited to dance’. Inclusion comes in different forms but at the heart of inclusivity is again the notion that people matter, and trust and respect of each other is key to enjoying the dance and the party. At the heart of inclusivity is the need to create workplaces and organisations where everyone feels that they belong. Evidence shows that belonging raises productivity and creativity. We are currently addressing the issue of diversity in single dimensions, where what is required is a multi-dimensional approach to creating workplaces that trust and respect each other (regardless of gender, race, age, ethnicity, sexuality). Taking a linear approach to growing inclusion won’t yield the benefits that diversity brings. Our identity is much more than each of the labels that we have.   

“Are you intentionally hiring for diversity?  What would your team, organisation and business look like for every member to feel trusted and respected?   

“It’s one thing to be intentional about the diversity in your workforce, but it’s critical for all to develop cultural intelligence in order to understand and appreciate the diversity. Cultural intelligence creates the agility required for diverse teams to thrive.   

“A common purpose: Many will have heard about the cave rescue of the 12 boys and their soccer coach in Thailand in mid-July. It remains a miraculous story of courage, survival and creativity in the midst of insurmountable odds. A common vision and purpose drove every member of the global and local team – they wanted to see the children come out alive. Every member had different parts to play and even different ways of approaching the problem. It was the common purpose that united the team to achieve their mission – it wasn’t their differences that were talked about, or reported on, but their common vision, purpose and focus. The diversity of the team from experience, nationality, skills, knowledge and different roles they played faded, where the common purpose drove them to trust each other and work towards it,” Shireen told me. 

We’re thrilled to be working with Shireen to help leaders tap into the strength of diverse teams by building cultural intelligence across their organisations. 

People can do amazing things if they are empowered, equipped and harnessed together with a common vision and goal, and given the opportunity to make contributions. I choose amazing. Let’s do this.  


Jane McCarroll is the head of marketing and membership at IMNZ. The Institute of Management New Zealand, helping leaders step up and lead since 1946.

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